Google’s Pixel 5 Is Made of Recycled Aluminum and Ideas: Review
(Bloomberg) -- In 2010, Google released its first smartphone, the Nexus One built by HTC Corp., which was intended not as a multimillion-unit-selling iPhone rival but as a modest example of what a good Android phone could and should be. A decade later with the Pixel 5, designed by the HTC team that Google since acquired, the Alphabet Inc. unit seems to be returning to its original philosophy.
The Pixel 5 is an assembly of established technologies topped off with 5G wireless connectivity and an important reduction in price to $699. Bowing out of the premium-tier race with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. after four Pixel generations, Google also did away with its XL model and refocused on the strengths of its devices: good cameras, utilitarian design and reliable software updates.
Settling on a 6-inch display as its only size option, Google runs against the grain of bigger-is-better that pervades the mobile industry, with even Apple recently launching its biggest iPhone yet with a 6.7-inch Max model. The search giant takes two other steps back in time: it brought back the fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 5’s rear and moved to an aluminum enclosure amid a sea of all-glass smartphones. In testing, however, the Pixel 5 proved each of those to be an upgrade in daily use.
Being smaller than the typical Android device, the Pixel is easier to handle and fit into a pocket. Its textured rear finish provides more grip and durability than glass and, in the “Sorta Sage” color, is entirely averse to finger smudging. Google has managed to retain wireless charging on this phone even with the return to a metal casing and it has also significantly upgraded its battery size. Though unlikely to have been a coronavirus-inspired design choice, the replacement of face authentication as the biometric ID standard also fixes one of the pain points of using mobile phones in the era of face masks.
Google has adopted an iPhone-like strategy in picking the particular specs it cares to emphasize with its device -- but its choices haven’t all been for the better. The Pixel 5 doesn’t have Qualcomm Inc.’s top-tier processor, which manifests itself in occasional slowdowns when activating the camera or reviewing photos. Google has also removed its dedicated image-processing silicon in the new phone, adding some small delay to processing times.
The addition of 5G may prove meaningful when those networks, and services that take advantage of them, are built out. But faster wireless coverage is for now spotty at best all over the world.
Pervasive Pixel issues remain. Bluetooth connectivity problems showed up in testing, Google still lags the competition in terms of camera hardware -- it added an ultrawide lens this year, but took away the telephoto zoom lens it adopted last year -- and its display technology isn’t pushing any boundaries. Its former key advantage of unequaled camera performance was quashed by last year’s iPhone 11.
Google guarantees Android updates for the Pixel 5 through October 2023. That three-year pledge -- uncommon among Android vendors --- is augmented by Google supporting its older devices with features from new ones where it can.
The premise underpinning Google’s Pixel 5 appears to be one of good-enough technology. The phone delivers no great surprises or disappointments and doesn’t pretend to challenge the mobile industry paradigm. Taken together with this year’s Pixel 4a duo, Google’s most affordable entries in the range, it signals a company more concerned with price and everyday utility than performance accolades and tech novelties.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.